One casual, over-the-shoulder glance at somebody playing Mystik Belle is usually all it takes to ensure that your attention falls under the yoke of the game’s not inconsiderable retro charm. A super cute and whimsical take on the Metroidvania template with some well implemented puzzle bits thrown in to keep things interesting, Mystik Belle at the very least deserves to be on the radar of fans of the genre, and if not, then you probably have bigger problems – like you’re missing a soul or something.
Mystik Belle is like Castlevania meets Harry Potter, sort of
A student of the mystical arts at Hagmore School of Magic, main protagonist and wayward freshman fire-wizard Belle MacFae is struggling. Between mean classmates, plummeting grades and overly punishing teachers, it’s fair to say that she isn’t having the best time of it. Making matters worse is that she ends up being framed for the destruction of the Walpurgisnacht Brew; a mysterious and ancient ritual that the school performs every year and, at the pain of expulsion, is tasked with reassembling the ingredients and dealing with the fiendish monsters that have overtaken the school.
Further aiding the sublimely whimsical presentation is the cast, an entertaining and endearingly well written bunch to say the least. Aside from Belle herself we have a werewolf teacher who lurks in the basement, the class nerd who is trying to embark on his own Frankenstein-esque experiment and a depressed half-troll who finds herself continually shunned by her classmates, with this trio representing just a few of the folk that Belle will encounter on her adventures. It also doesn’t hurt that the writing is pretty bang on too and frequently entertaining; often coming across as a take on Buffy The Vampire Slayer if the show was written by Thimbleweed Park maestro, Ron Gilbert.
When you’re not blasting enemies to pieces with Belle’s fire magic, you’ll be exploring the school and its surrounding areas; and in true Metroidvania fashion there are certain areas that our beleaguered heroine simply cannot access until she has the requisite powers to do so. Some areas might, for example, require our fiery witch to possess a double jump spell before she can reach them, while others, such as deep underwater caverns, could require an underwater breathing spell to be active in order for Belle to be able to plumb their depths without the fear of asphyxiation.
Where Mystik Belle seeks to especially separate itself from other genre contemporaries such as Steamworld Dig 2, is in how point and click style puzzles also serve to gate the progress of the player throughout the game. Inspired by the classic 8-bit Dizzy series of games that released back in the 1980s, Mystik Belle’s use of item based conundrums makes it feel much more like a true adventure in the traditional sense rather than the usual Metroidvania fare; forcing players to use their grey matter as much as their platforming acumen.
A small handful of flaws tarnish the magic
It’s not all happy half-trolls and magical rainbows however; as there are a small clutch of shortcomings that detract somewhat from Mystik Belle’s otherwise highly enjoyable offering. The first of these is the inventory system. Rather than allowing the player to carry an infinite number of objects (I mean, she is a Person of Magic after all so we’re hardly stretching credulity here), our spell-toting protagonist can only carry six or seven items at one time and will simply replace an existing item with a new item, dropping the former on the ground, when she reaches her limit.
Much like the puzzles themselves, this inventory system also feels like it was inspired by the Dizzy adventure series of games on the old 8-bit Spectrum and C64 computers of yesteryear, the difference is, while the puzzles from that era are enjoyable and largely add to the proceedings, the somewhat archaic and clunky inventory system from the same time period does not.
If the item management in Mystik Belle is disappointingly handled than the combat, which is arguably key to Metroidvania effort worth its salt, is somewhat not without issue too. The main reason for the less than inspiring battles in Mystik Belle is that there just isn’t much variety of offense on Belle’s part; aside from a slowly upgrading fireball ability that can either shoot single, double or wave blast fire spells, there really is very little else in terms of attacks that Belle can add to arsenal which makes combat feel desperately repetitive for the majority of the game.
All the same, the bosses that you’ll run into are an interesting lot. From massive werewolves, to science ninjas (don’t ask), and even Cthulhu himself (yes, you can even sock him the mush), the big bads that you’ll tangle with in Mystik Belle are both varied and challenging; it’s just a shame that Belle’s arsenal isn’t represented with equal respect and innovation.
One other odd aspect of Mystik Belle’s design and this is something which sticks out rather brazenly, is that the character sprite of Belle herself is absolutely huge; literally putting the ‘larger’ in ‘larger than life’. In addition to being distractingly large, she simply doesn’t move about the place as gracefully as other player characters do in similar efforts. Rusty from Steamworld Dig, or even that funny looking dude from Rogue Legacy, Belle is not.
Finally, there just isn’t any real reason to come back to Mystik Belle once the credits start to roll. No secrets, no extra modes, no anything really; which given the 6-7 hour length of the game might be an issue for those who were expecting a longer effort for their buck.
Despite being on PC for nearly two-and-a-half years, Mystik Belle still justifies her place on PS4 with a puzzle stuffed Metroidvania adventure that’s as charming as it is enjoyable to play. It’s just a shame that the quality of the combat and the incentive to replay the game isn’t on par with the quality of the rest of the package, rendering Mystik Belle a very good game, rather than a great one.